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TRENTON, NJ -
Following a May 13th citizen's inspection of the highest risk
chemical plant in the U.S., Greenpeace today cited the Kuehne Chemical
Co., Inc. of South Kearney, NJ for "failure to prevent catastrophic
risks." The report was given to the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS), the United States Coast Guard and a copy to Kuehne. Greenpeace
has also confirmed that the Kuehne facility is exempt from the temporary
DHS security rules for chemical plants because it is subject to much
less stringent rules under the Maritime Transportation Security Act.
The report includes photos of the plant taken in the middle of the day
from Greenpeace boats on the Hackensack River, from above the plant on
the Pulaski Skyway and in front of the plant's main gate. Greenpeace
inspectors were never approached by plant personnel or other security.
According to the disaster scenario submitted by Kuehne to the EPA, the
company's plant puts 12 million people at risk who live within a 14-mile
radius throughout the NY-NJ metropolitan area. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/assets/binaries/kuehne-plant
"Our inspection shows that the chemical disaster scenario that Kuehne
has given to the EPA is as unrealistic as the estimates BP first gave
about the size of their Deepwater oil rig blow out," said Rick Hind,
Greenpeace Legislative Director. "Kuehne's scenario is based on a
fraction of the nearly 2 million pounds of chlorine gas they may have on
site. In contrast, the Clorox Company announced plans in November to
convert all of their U.S. facilities to safer processes. Instead of
taking similar action, Kuehne is asking for a $50 million hand-out from
taxpayers. It's time for Congress to pass legislation that requires all
of the highest risk plants to prevent chemical disasters."
Under a temporary federal law the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
is actually prohibited from requiring the use of safer chemical
processes to prevent chemical disasters. Furthermore in March, the DHS
testified that it would inspect only 4 percent of the 5,000 "high-risk"
plants by the end of 2010. The DHS and EPA are asking Congress for
authority to prevent these risks.
Congress is currently considering permanent legislation that will
prevent chemical disasters whether by terrorist attacks or accidents.
Approximately 500 plants have already begun using safer alternatives to
eliminate these risks to 40 million Americans. The U.S. Senate is about
to consider legislation (H.R. 2868) passed by the House in November.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is preparing to introduce this
legislation in the Senate before the July 4th recess.
"New Jersey has led the nation in requiring high-risk chemical plants to
'assess" safer alternatives but the catastrophic risks posed by Kuehne
Chemical and others are living proof of the need for new federal
standards that require the use of safer chemical processes, " said Rick
Engler, Director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council. "The day
after another attack like 9/11, no one will question whether we should
have required these plants to use safer available alternatives."
Today 300 U.S. chemical plants together put 110 million Americans at
risk of a catastrophic attack or accident up to 25 miles down wind of
their facilities. In 2004, the Homeland Security Council estimated that
an attack on a chemical facility would kill 17,500 people, seriously
injure 10,000, and send and additional 100,000 people to the hospital.
The magnitude of a chemical facility's risk is based on the "worst case
scenario" reports they submit to the EPA. The DHS has warned chemical
facilities that the worst-case scenarios of a terrorist attack will be
"more severe" than those submitted to the EPA. A terrorist attack could
result in the release of much more than one storage tank of poison
gases stored on site. The accidental release of one tank of poison gas
at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India in 1984 killed 8,000 people
within a few days.
America's railroads are the largest carriers of poison gases. These
gases represent only 0.3 percent of all of their cargo but 80 percent of
their liability. In 2008 the Association of American Railroads said,
"It's time for the big chemical companies to do their part to help
protect America. They should stop manufacturing dangerous chemicals when
safer substitutes are available. And if they won't do it, Congress
should do it for them..."
This is the third in a series of Greenpeace citizen inspections of
high-risk chemical facilities. The first inspections were announced on
May 21st at two DuPont facilities in Delaware and New Jersey. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/failed-inspection
Kuehne Chemical was part of a front page NY Daily News expose' in July
2002 about the highest risk chemical plants in the NY metro area and was
also featured in a November 2003 CBS 60 Minutes story about chemical
Greenpeace is a global, independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.+31 20 718 2000
A Republican-passed bill to allow public schools to replace professional counselors with unlicensed chaplains is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.
The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature has passed a bill to allow public schools to replace professional counselors with uncertified religious chaplains.
GOP lawmakers in the state House approved Senate Bill 763 on Wednesday, one day after their counterparts in the state Senate passed the legislation. The measure, which permits school districts "to employ or accept as volunteers chaplains to provide support, services, and programs for students," now heads to the desk of far-right Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign it into law.
In addition to undermining religious freedom, the legislation also advances the American Legislative Exchange Council's longstanding goal of weakening occupational licensing requirements, thus threatening both the secular foundations and quality of public education in the Lone Star State. The right-wing Christian lawmakers backing S.B. 763 and related bills have called the separation of church and state a "false doctrine."
Senate Bill 1515, which would have required teachers to display an edited version of the Ten Commandments in every classroom in Texas, was approved by Senate Republicans last month, but the proposal died in the House because the chamber didn't vote on it before midnight Tuesday.
"The purpose of these bills is clear: The same lawmakers trying to control what students think by banning books and censoring curricula now want to dictate what students worship."
S.B. 1515 "was an unconstitutional attack on our core liberties that threatened the freedom of and from religion we hold dear as Texans. It should never have gotten this close to passage," ACLU of Texas attorney David Donatti said in a statement. "Whether trying to place the Ten Commandments in every classroom or replacing school counselors with unlicensed chaplains, certain Texas lawmakers have launched a coordinated effort to force state-sponsored religion into our public schools."
"We cannot overlook their attempts to push legislation that would sanction religious discrimination and bullying," said Donatti. "The First Amendment guarantees families and faith communities—not politicians or the government—the right to instill religious beliefs in their children."
S.B. 763 and S.B. 1515 "came in a session of aggressive legislative measures in Texas and several other states aiming to weaken decades of distinction between religion and government," The Washington Post observed. "Supporters say they believe the [U.S.] Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Kennedy v. Bremerton, in favor of a high school football coach who prayed with players, essentially removed any guardrails between them."
Texas Senate Republicans "also passed a bill to allow districts to require schools to set aside time for staff and students to pray and read religious texts, and a second bill to allow public employees to 'engage in religious prayer and speech'—modeled after the coach ruling," the newspaper reported. "Those two bills failed to make it out of House committees Wednesday and were not considered likely to resurface this session."
Carisa Lopez, senior political director for the progressive Texas Freedom Network, denounced GOP lawmakers for approving S.B. 763.
"This bill violates the religious freedom of all faiths and Texans of non-faith by placing chaplains in our schools who are not required to be certified educators or omit their personal religious beliefs when working with students," Lopez said in a statement. "Chaplains, unlike counselors, are not given the professional training required to care for the mental health of all students, and we cannot be reasonably certain that every chaplain hired or allowed to volunteer would give unbiased and adequate support to an LGBTQIA+ student, someone grappling with reproductive health decisions, or a student who may struggle with suicidal ideation or self-harm."
"I find it egregious—especially on the one-year anniversary of the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde—that lawmakers would pass a bill allowing chaplains to be compensated with funding meant to address school safety," said Lopez.
"Yet again, our elected officials have squandered their opportunity to pass meaningful legislation that would keep kids safe, like commonsense gun reform or bills addressing the school counselor and teacher shortage," she added. "We will never stop fighting the religious right's agenda to inject their personal beliefs into our schools, and we urge Texans to hold these lawmakers accountable at the ballot box."
\u201cReplacing well-educated, licensed professionals with uncertified chaplains threatens the safety and education of all Texas students.\n\nFamilies and faith communities have the right to instill religious beliefs in their children \u2014 not the government. https://t.co/9NjXAGqqYj\u201d— ACLU of Texas (@ACLU of Texas) 1685031504
Rev. Erin Walter, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Texas, also condemned the state's GOP lawmakers for pushing theocratic legislation that violates the U.S. Constitution and, in the case of S.B. 763, could harm the well-being of students by leaving them in the care of unqualified chaplains rather than licensed counselors who have completed the requisite training.
"As a religious leader, I'm disgusted by this assault on religious freedom and the right of all religious communities to conduct their own religious education," said Walter. "As a mother, I'm angry that these politicians believe they know how to raise Texas children better than their own parents do."
"As a former public school teacher, I'm appalled by this erosion of public education as a means of preparing young people to thrive in our diverse state," Walter continued. "And as a fourth-generation Texan, I refuse to accept this government intrusion into our private lives."
Earlier this month, Rep. Cole Hefner (R-5), the House sponsor of S.B. 763, insisted during a floor debate that the legislation doesn't seek to promote religion.
"We have to give schools all the tools; with all we're experiencing, with mental health problems, other crises, this is just another tool," said Hefner.
But as The Texas Tribune reported, "opponents fear the bill is a 'Trojan horse' for evangelizing kids and will worsen the state's mental health crisis through disproven counseling approaches."
"Our elected officials have squandered their opportunity to pass meaningful legislation that would keep kids safe, like commonsense gun reform or bills addressing the school counselor and teacher shortage."
Critics of S.B. 763, including some religious groups and Christian Democrats, worry it could allow "religious activists to recruit in schools and would exacerbate tensions at local school boards, which would have the final say on whether to allow chaplains in schools," the Tribune noted. "Worse, opponents say, the bill could deepen the state's youth mental health crisis by providing students with unproven, lightly supervised, and nonscientific counseling that treats common childhood problems, such as anxiety, as 'sins' or issues that can merely be prayed away."
According to the newspaper, "The head of the National School Chaplain Association—a key supporter of the chaplains bill—has led another group for decades that touted its ability to use school chaplains for evangelizing to kids."
During debate on the House floor, "a half-dozen Democratic lawmakers rose to ask Hefner to amend the bill, saying it didn't provide protection for a diversity of religions, among other things," the Post reported. "Hefner and the majority rejected almost all amendments, including one requiring parental consent and another requiring chaplains to serve students of all faiths and not proselytize."
"Groups that watch church-state issues say efforts nationwide to fund and empower religion—and, more specifically, a particular type of Christianity—are more plentiful and forceful than they have been in years," the newspaper noted. "Americans United for Separation of Church and Statesays it is watching 1,600 bills around the country in states such as Louisiana and Missouri. Earlier this year, Idaho and Kentucky signed into law measures that could allow teachers and public school employees to pray in front of and with students while on duty." However, the group "said it knows of no other bills that replace guidance counselors with chaplains."
In a blog post published earlier this week by the ACLU of Texas, Walter argued that "the purpose of these bills is clear: The same lawmakers trying to control what students think by banning books and censoring curricula now want to dictate what students worship."
"One person is likely to die of hunger every 28 seconds between now and July across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan alone—the highest on record," said one advocate.
A pledging event convened by the United Nations on Wednesday fell far short of the $7 billion that was called for to aid countries in the Horn of Africa, where more than 23.5 million people are currently suffering from hunger brought on by one of the worst droughts in recent history.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said as he announced the pledge drive that "action will make all the difference" to avert a catastrophic famine in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, where 43 million people have faced five consecutive rainy seasons which brought vastly insufficient rain.
The High-Level Pledging Event brought in only $2.4 billion, with the United States making the largest donation—an additional $524 million, making its total contribution to humanitarian efforts in the region $1.4 billion this year. By contrast, the country's military budget for the current fiscal year—which includes funding for military activity in Somalia—is $858 billion.
Guterres on Thursday called the failed pledging event "unacceptable."
Without an immediate injection of more aid, he said, "emergency operations will grind to a halt, and people will die."
"We must act now to prevent crisis from turning into catastrophe," Mr. Guterres said. "Let us act together now—with greater urgency and far greater support."
The U.N. chief said in a statement that on a recent trip to the Horn of Africa, he met families who have been driven from their homes in Northern Kenya "in search of water, food, and incomes" as the ongoing drought has left them with "parched landscapes and perished livestock."
As scientists at the World Weather Attribution wrote in a report in April, the five consecutive failed rainy seasons in East Africa would not have occurred without the climate emergency and continued fossil fuel emissions, 92% of which come from the Global North.
Guterres said the Horn of Africa has become "the epicenter of one of the world's worst climate emergencies."
The international humanitarian group Oxfam said it was "deeply disappointed" by the failure of wealthy countries to contribute enough money to avert famine in the region, noting that much of the funding included in the $2.4 billion was previously pledged.
"This was a vital moment for rich donors to step up and show their commitment to saving lives," said Fati N'Zi Hassane, director of Oxfam in Africa. "They have failed millions of people caught up in this vicious spiral of hunger, displacement, and insecurity."
"One person is likely to die of hunger every 28 seconds between now and July across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan alone—the highest on record," said Hassane. "To wait for a fully declared famine before donors act decisively is both complicit and immoral."
"We cannot continue drip-feeding aid to keep the worst of the crisis at bay while each day millions are being pushed further to starvation," she added. "What East Africa urgently needs is a drastic global collective effort not only to save lives now but to scale up programs that help people become more resilient to shocks like climate change and food price inflation."
The World Food Program noted on Wednesday that a basket of food in the Horn of Africa costs 40% more than it did a year ago.
\u201cA food basket in the Horn of Africa costs 40% more than a year ago. In Somalia alone, WFP assistance helped avert #famine last year.\n\nHear from WFP nutrition expert Hassan \ud83d\udc47 as he explains why funding must be sustained. \n\n\ud83d\udd17https://t.co/h7c1QnFyHT\u201d— World Food Programme (@World Food Programme) 1684939054
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the pledges that were made this week will help humanitarian agencies to sustain supplies of food, water, healthcare, and nutrition services, but said "additional resources are urgently required to prevent a return to the worst-case scenario."
"We must persist in pushing for stepped-up investments," said U.N. deputy emergency relief coordinator Joyce Msuya, "especially to bolster the resilience of people already bearing the brunt of climate change."
The court "ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands," said one critic, warning that the ruling "will cause incalculable harm."
This is a breaking story… Please check back for possible updates...
The U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority on Thursday severely curtailed protections for "waters of the United States."
The decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is "unanimous in result but very split in reasoning," explainedSlate's Mark Joseph Stern. "The upshot of Sackett is that, by a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court dramatically narrows" which wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The majority opinion—authored by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by all of the court's other right-wing members except Justice Brett Kavanaugh—concludes that the CWA only applies to wetlands with "a continuous surface connection" to larger bodies of water, excluding those that are "adjacent."
\u201cThe decision is so extreme that they even lost Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote separately to note that "long-regulated adjacent wetlands" are now at the mercy of polluters, "with significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States."\u201d— Cristian Farias (@Cristian Farias) 1685024738
Earthjusticedeclared in response to the ruling that "this is a catastrophic loss for water protections across the country and a win for big polluters, putting our communities, public health, and local ecosystems in danger."
Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), was similarly critical, saying that "the Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands."
"The majority chose to protect polluters at the expense of healthy wetlands and waterways. This decision will cause incalculable harm. Communities across the country will pay the price," Bapna warned.
"What's important now is to repair the damage," he added. "The government must enforce the remaining provisions of law that protect the clean water we all rely on for drinking, swimming, fishing, irrigation, and more. States should quickly strengthen their own laws. Congress needs to act to restore protections for all our waters."
\u201cBREAKING: The U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in favor of corporate polluters over protecting communities & #cleanwater, ignoring decades of legal precedent, science, & Clean Water Act protections. SCOTUS failed us. @POTUS & Congress must step in to protect our nation\u2019s\u2026\u201d— Waterkeeper Alliance (@Waterkeeper Alliance) 1685026989
Elizabeth Southerland, former director of science and technology in EPA's Office of Water, noted that "since 1989, the U.S. government has used Clean Water Act authority to either prevent the filling of wetlands or to permit filling only when an equal acreage of wetlands is reclaimed or restored."
"Wetland preservation is critical for providing flood control, absorbing pollutants, preventing shoreline erosion, storing carbon, and serving as a nursery for wildlife," stressed Southerland, now a volunteer with the Environmental Protection Network.
Thursday's decision, she said, "is a big win for land developers and miners, who will now be free to destroy certain types of wetlands without paying for wetland reclamation," and "a big loss for communities who will have to pay more to treat their drinking water and respond to increased flooding and shoreline erosion."
The high court was criticized for hearing the case—brought by an Idaho couple denied a permit by the EPA—as the federal agency was finalizing a new waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule following the Trump administration's widely condemned rollback. The Biden administration's policy was just finalized in December.
"While Earthjustice and our allies are closely evaluating the impact of the Sackett decision on the new WOTUS regulation," said Sam Sankar, the legal group's vice president of programs, "we can say with certainty that the court has once again given polluting industries and land developers a potent weapon that they will use to erode regulatory protections for wetlands and waterways around the country."